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Cloud Computing

October 22, 2009
Class 1 Cloud Formation: Steady State

Class 1 Cloud Formation: Steady State

Some computer scientists believe that pretty much everything can be viewed as a form of computation. I recently came across the book The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul in which computer scientist Rudy Rucker explores what the concept means to him in a spiritual and everyday living sense. He describes four classes of computation, attributing them to fellow scientist, Stephen Wolfram. The four classes are: I) Enter a constant state, II) Generate a repeating or nested pattern, III) Produce random looking crud, and IV) Produce gnarly, interactive, non-repeating patterns. Here, “gnarly” is loosely defined as cool, intriguing, beautiful, and in some sense unexpected, remembering that gnarly is always in the eye of the beholder.

Class III Cloud Formation: Random Crud

Class III Cloud Formation: Random Crud

Given the above analysis, even weather can be represented as computational, and cloud formations definitely fall into the four computational patterns. I saw three of the classes during a recent flight from Portland to Chicago, and I took photos of them from the window of the airliner:

First, Class I: a steady state system. Unchanging, unbroken, unrelieved.

Second, Class III formation: random looking crud. There is stuff happening here but it doesn’t really do much for us aesthetically.

Finally, I have a photo of a Class IV formation: gnarly. Here the weather has generated unexpected and complex patterns which take on a life, energy and beauty all of their own. These are the formations that you see outside the plane window and say, “Oh wow! I’ve got to get a picture of that!” Notice that one of the characteristics of this particular image is the variety of scales of interest, similar to fractals. I believe that interest at differing levels of scale is one of Christopher Alexander’s pre-requisites for beauty. I will have to check and get back to you on that.

Class IV Cloud Formation: Gnarly

Class IV Cloud Formation: Gnarly

While I did not see anything that I would call a Class II formation, they are also relatively common. Maybe on the flight home…

And to those who have made it this far…

Yes, I have in fact transgressed the currently popular term “cloud computing” used to describe remote computational resources accessed via the Internet. I think my use of the term is much more interesting. And in my defense, the French are having a great deal of trouble coming to grips with the term as well, as detailed in this recent Wall Street Journal article.

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